DHEA is a hormone that does a lot in the body – including influencing muscle mass and weight.
This quick article examines just one aspect of DHEA: how it affects our weight. But the genetic variants included here also impact other impacts of DHEA in the body.
DHEA and Weight Loss
Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) is one of our body’s most abundantly produced steroid hormones. It is secreted by the adrenal glands, gonads, and in the brain. DHEA acts as both a precursor hormone to testosterone and DHT and as a neurotransmitter.
Like other hormones, we tend to produce less of it with age, with the production of DHEA peaking around age 25 – 30.
How does DHEA impact weight loss?
Among its many other functions, DHEA is involved in lipid (fat) break down and building lean muscle.
Some studies have shown that DHEA reduces fat accumulation in animals fed a high-fat, weight-increasing diet. A June 2016 study concluded, “Our results showed that long-term DHEA administration decreased bodyweight in rats on a high-fat diet.”
The study goes on to discuss the pathways involved with DHEA, explaining that DHEA supplements may be decreasing gluconeogenesis (creation of glucose from protein). DHEA has also been shown to increase the absorption of glucose into several types of cells.[ref]
A small study in 2012 looked at the effect of DHEA-S (100mg/day) on women in regards to weight loss. The women on DHEA-S did have weight loss, and those who were post-menopausal also had better results on their metabolic syndrome score.[ref]
Another study explains that “Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) exerts a wide variety of therapeutic effects against medical disorders, such as diabetes and obesity.” The mice in the study were genetically modified to increase DHEA molecular targets, and the study results showed the modified mice weighed significantly less while eating the same high-fat diet.[ref]
More is not always better…
While it may sound like a great hormone to supplement with, you may want to be cautious! Too much DHEA, whether naturally or through supplements, can cause side effects including facial hair and lowered voice in women. Higher DHEA levels are linked to PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome) in women. In fact, to create an animal model of PCOS, researchers simply give the animals a little too much DHEA.[ref]
Testing your levels:
When it comes to lab tests to see what your DHEA levels are, you are likely to see DHEAS, dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate, instead of DHEA. DHEAS is the inactive precursor to DHEA, which then is converted into androgens and estrogens. DHEAS concentrations are more stable and easier to measure accurately using blood tests.
Genetic variants that affect DHEA and DHEAS levels:
Studies on sets of twins show that DHEAS levels are about 60% heritable. Thus, while genetics plays a role in DHEA and DHEAS levels, lifestyle and diet also are important.
Check your genetic data for rs2185570 (23andMe v4, v5 ; AncestryDNA):
- T/T: typical DHEAS levels
- C/T: lower DHEAS levels
- C/C: lower DHEAS levels[ref]
Members: Your genotype for rs2185570 is —.
- G/G: typical
- A/G: lower DHEAS levels
- A/A: lower DHEAS levels[ref]
Members: Your genotype for rs17277546 is —.
Members: Your genotype for rs182420 is —.
Check your genetic data for rs2637125 (23andMe v5 ):
- G/G: typical
- A/G: decreased DHEAS
- A/A: decreased DHEAS[ref]
Members: Your genotype for rs2637125 is —.
Check your genetic data for rs2910397 (23andMe v5; AncestryDNA):
- T/T: higher DHEAS to DHEA ratio[ref]
- C/T: higher DHEAS to DHEA ratio
- C/C: typical DHEAS
Members: Your genotype for rs2910397 is —.
Yoga: A controlled trial found that 12 weeks of yoga significantly increased both growth hormone and DHEAS levels in men and women.[ref]
Supplements: DHEA supplements can be found at your local health food store or online.*
*Note that DHEA is a banned supplement for NCAA college athletes. I also would encourage serious caution (talk to a doctor!) with using DHEA if you are young, pregnant, breastfeeding, or being treated for hormone-related cancer.
Debbie Moon is the founder of Genetic Lifehacks. Fascinated by the connections between genes, diet, and health, her goal is to help you understand how to apply genetics to your diet and lifestyle decisions. Debbie has a BS in engineering and an MSc in biological sciences from Clemson University. Debbie combines an engineering mindset with a biological systems approach to help you understand how genetic differences impact your optimal health.